Folks in New Mexico/Arizona: Need Travel Advice

Updated on March 04, 2015
M.R. asks from Sterling, VA
7 answers

We're planning a vacation and are looking at the Southwest, specifically using either Santa Fe as a base to explore some of New Mexico or somewhere in AZ to explore some of that state. If you live there or visit there yourself, what do you recommend as the best place to use as a base for day trip driving? Phoenix seems so huge that I can't scratch the surface of finding a hotel or knowing where in or near the city to stay, and Santa Fe seems more manageable (and less of a big city vibe), but even with Santa Fe, it's hard to know whether to stay in the city center or somewhere outside there. We don't want to spend days driving the whole time, so are seeking someplace from which we can do day trips, with an emphasis on Native American sites, historic areas, and some moderate to easy walking and hiking. Thoughts? Recommended hotels or inns? City center or outskirts? Areas to avoid and areas to seek out? No need to think about "family friendly" for younger kids as we are traveling with our easygoing, history-loving teen. Thanks.

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I should have said -- we are going for about a week, so won't be doing long treks from place to place. Thanks!

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answers from Santa Fe on

How long are you going for? I know New Mexico better than Arizona, although I have been to the Grand Canyon. If you go to NM you should stay in Santa Fe. There are great restaurants and, native american, history. Santa Fe has some nice trails. You could do day trips such as:

1. Jemez Mountains, drive up to Jemez Springs, stop at sights along the way such as the Valle Grande, Soda Dam, Jemez Falls, etc. There are some really really nice hikes along the drive and you can plan on eating lunch at a restaurant in Jemez Springs. Jemez Springs also has a National Monument where you can explore inside some old ancient pueblo houses.
2. Bandelier National Monument. This is near Los Alamos on the way up to the Jemez Mounains but you'll want your own day here. You can go in the visitor center, museum, and hike a trail that teaches you all about the ancient people who lived there. You climb up ladders into the cliff's very cool.
3. Taos day trip - reserve a spot to take a tour of the Taos Pueblo. There are museums and good restaurants shops in Taos
4. Taos hiking up to the Taos Ski Basin and plan on hiking Williams Lake Trail. Bring a picnic lunch to eat at the lake. It's an alpine lake and is insanely gorgeous! I love hiking, so I highly recommend this.
5. Los Alamos has a historic museum and a science museum if you want to learn more about the history of Los Alamos and the first nuclear weapon in the 40s. Los Alamos is a town but it also has a LOT of really good can find them listed online and some decent restaurants.
6. You can rent bikes in Santa Fe and ride around...there is a lot to see and do.
7. You can do a little river rafting trip on the Rio Grande...they do little day trips that are fun.
8. A day trip to Ghost Ranch would be awesome too. They have a museum and a dinosaur museum. They have excellent trails. This is a place where Georgia O'Keefe used to like to paint.

Really, the list is endless. There is a lot to do. I'm sure Arizona has a lot too! Have fun on your trip!

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answers from Phoenix on

Okay, I am biased :)

With the preferences you described, here are my suggestions:

Fly into Phoenix and rent a car. Since you are coming from the East Coast, I would stay the first night in Phoenix. If budget is not a huge concern, stay a night at the Royal Palm on Camelback Rd or the Scottsdale Princess. Have dinner at the Roaring Fork. Depending on your time the day you arrive, you could check out the Heard Museum, which focuses on Native American history and culture and is just amazing. Day two, drive up to Sedona. I would suggest staying in Oak Creek- Junipine is lovely. I would suggest 2 nights in Sedona. The West Fork trail is great, or Bell Rock for some nice hiking with AMAZING views. Lots of neat shops and restaurants. You can also go to Montezuma's Castle, with some ancient cliff dwellings, very nearby. Day four and five, drive up to the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab Trail has a nice, moderate hike down to Pine Ridge, or you can do the first bit of Bright Angel Don't try to go down and back in a day unless you are in extremely good shape. I would actually recommend not trying to go all the way down at all, unless you are big hikers. There is a really amazing scenic drive around to the North Rim. It will take you to the only place where you can see the Colorado River from the Rim. Day six I would suggest a drive back through the Navajo Nation and down to Williams, take your time and check things out along the way. I would suggest spending the night in Williams at the Historic Grand Canyon Hotel: not to be confused with the railway hotel, which is nice but not historic! The historic hotel is more like a B&B and is right on this cool little main street. The next day, enjoy Williams (get pie at the Pine Country Restaurant) for a bit and head back to Phoenix for your flight home.

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answers from Las Vegas on

Santa Fe can be both touristy as well as authentic. I suggest you use their visitors calendar to see what is going on during the week you plan to go. That will also help determine your hotel. August is the Native American festival (I believe it is the 3rd week).

As for history, here are a few things I like about both states. Las Vegas, New Mexico is about a one hour drive from Santa Fe. There are a lot of antique boutique type shops there. It is very small and nostalgic. I mean very small. If you take a look around the neighborhoods, you will find some original housing that has been added to or resurfaced. They make use of all materials. In old town, there are no track type homes.

Here is a hotel for you to read up on and see if this is something for you. The hotel is very old, but beautiful. Historic Plaza Hotel
230 Plaza Park, Las Vegas, NM ‎
###-###-#### ‎ ·
3.923 reviews ·
wireless internet connections · coffee tea maker · lovingly restored · high speed internet · hot breakfast

Between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, I found a hiking trail. It had all sorts of Native American pueblos and a kiva. Here is a list of ruins. I cannot find the route (off Hwy 25) I took to find the location we went to, but it was interesting.

You can drive along the Pecos River by turning off the 25 toward Villanueva National Park. You can picnic up there. You will find a pay on your own booth, so bring $10 (or so) cash. On the way up there, you will find some ruins, pueblos, old churches, and current homes. A very different way of living.

You can visit

Hotels in Santa Fe are a hit or miss. There are 6 stars (over the top) and then the 3 star is more like a 1.5 star in my view. I like La Fonda. It is my favorite place to stay. I would also like to try the Inn at the Governors. Also, about Santa Fe. If you enjoy old churches, you can visit (Santa Fe) Loretto Chapel and Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. There are great places to eat in Santa Fe, but pricey! You can however, usually pick up a grilled taco in the park for a few bucks, if you don't mind a home made taco that is not at a regulated restaurant.

Sedona is nice in Arizona and if the kids enjoy old cowboys, they will like visiting Tombstone in Arizona with the O.K. Corale scene.

If you google the history of NM, you will find places to visit where some of the old cowboys traveled. I did think it was a long drive and never went.

We also did a train ride through the mountains. It was beautiful. The name of the train was Chauma and Toltec (I think).

Have fun and come back and tell us all the sites you found!



answers from Amarillo on

What 2kidmama says. Make sure you adjust to the altitude of Taos as you are going from sea level to high elevation and it might take a bit to adjust. I live in an area that is 4200 feet above and Taos is a good 6000 feet. Otherwise you should be good to go.

The northern part of the state is beautiful, green and mountains. The picture postcard. Billy the Kid has a museum in Ft. Sumner which is not the far from me. I live in the plains region and it is arid and brown with some green.

When will you be coming to the area?

the other S.

Enjoy your stay.



answers from St. Louis on

2 years ago, we did a Road Trip thru New Mexico & Arizona.
We used Albuquerque as our home base in NM.

We loved the Sandia Mts & the aerial tram!
We did a Day Trip to the VLA...Very Large Array ( ).
We came back thru El Malpais Nat'l Park on this day. (
Spent a day in Santa Fe.
& then headed West from ABQ....with quite a few pueblos to visit on the way.

From there, we hit Gallup NM, Petrified Forest, & the Painted Desert on our way to the Grand Canyon. Heaven!!

As we headed to Mesa Verde in Colorado, we hit the 4 Corners with fantastic driving thru Monument Valley on this section of our trip!
It truly was a trip of a lifetime...& I hope to be able to repeat it!!
The trip was a celebration of my 50th bd, my Mom's 70th....& we traveled with 2 16yos! It was a blast ...9 days total!



answers from Oklahoma City on

Santa Fe is very very very commercial, touristy, and you'll see a lot of interesting things but it's very much a put on so tourists will spend a fortune.

We went there on our honeymoon. We were going to go in a place and I'd just bought a pop, drank it down and wanted to eat the ice, and it had a sealed lid on the cup, a hard cup, no straw.

The lady refused to allow us in until I took my cup out and threw it in the trash. I told her no, it only had ice in it and I'd put it in my bag if it was bothering her.

She informed me her business was closed and if I didn't leave she was going to call the police. Ummm, okay. There were other people in there and I told her if she was making us leave and was closing we'd look around until everyone was leaving. She informed us they were invited to stay after "closing" for a special event. It was a cheap tourist trap sort of store so we left.

We also gave notice to our hotel we were leaving that night and going on to our next destination. We'd planned on staying in Santa Fe for a week and lasted 1 day, got there the day before and did some sight seeing then spend the night in the hotel, then went out the next day and had this happen around 1pm.

I had loved going there before on vacation but that lady certainly opened my eyes.



answers from Los Angeles on

We did a road trip through Arizona about a year ago, starting from where we live in Ca. Our main goal was to see the Grand Canyon, which we did, but I also really wanted to see Sedona. I loved Sedona for it's vibe, and the scenery. Amazing hikes and views. Definitely easy-to-moderate, we had two young kids with us and did a few easy walks that could have continued to actual hikes.
I also thought Slide Rock Creek park was very cool. It's somewhere between the Grand canyon and sedona. It had a historic element to it, with some old builidngs and artifacts. But the creek itself was fun to hike along. We were there in winter but if you go in summer you can wade/swim/slide around in it. My husband remembers doing that as a kid.
Lastly, we stayed at the Boulders resort near Scottsdale for a treat, which was looovely... but totally a resort, no need to leave the premises so we never did... so I really didn't experience scottsdale at all, and can't speak to the town itself.

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